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Arctic Council 20 Years As the Arctic Council celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, we are taking a closer look at the organisation, its work and the people involved with it.
In our latest initiative, we are again this year partnering with the Arctic Yearbook, which devoted this year’s edition to the Arctic Council. We will be republishing yearbook commentary and opinion on a regular basis.
The article below was originally published in the 2016 Arctic Yearbook, which was released on October 27.
Interest in Arctic issues, development activities and climate change has been growing in the past few years. This has been easy to notice also at the regional and local level in different agendas. The work of the Arctic Council has been active between Arctic countries, having also a strong emphasis on indigenous people’s affairs.
You might ask the question why the role of regions and cities has been so weak, even though operational implementation of programmes and strategies always is made on these levels in practice. Regions and cities have a lot to offer for Arctic co-operation. I have my own experiences from working in Finland’s State Office of Lapland, Lapland Regional Council and the City of Rovaniemi.
Rovaniemi is crossed by the Arctic Circle, so that most of its surface area is above it. Today it is a dynamic, growing city in terms of population and commerce. The number of inhabitants is about 62,000. Rovaniemi is the fifth largest Arctic city.
The science and applied science universities of Lapland are major educational institutes with almost 10,000 students. The city is also home to units of the main national research institutes of natural resources. These form a strong base for research and development activities in many issues related to know-how of Arctic conditions. So it is not only the location on the Arctic Circle that gives it the status of Finland’s Arctic capital city.
Rovaniemi is most probably best known globally from the trademark of the ‘official hometown of Santa Claus’. Nowadays Rovaniemi is often highly ranked as one of the top winter tourism destinations worldwide. We have been steadily growing to become an attractive international tourism destination with large scale of services throughout the year. Most of the tourist overnights come from abroad (57%).
During the last quarter of the century, the agenda of the city has been strongly focused on Arctic development and the on-going work to enhance it. The city of Rovaniemi feels an obligation to be an active partner in Arctic development. Today’s existing Arctic co-operation under the Arctic Council started in Rovaniemi in 1991 with the signing of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy.
The commencement of the co-operation, the Rovaniemi Process, led to the establishment of Arctic Council in 1996 in Ottawa. To continue the tradition, we arrange every second year an Arctic conference in the Spirit of Rovaniemi Process. The next one will take place in November 2017, when Finland will be chairing the Arctic Council and celebrating 100 years of independence.
Through its location, Rovaniemi is a good natural laboratory for the development of cold climate know-how and products. Mainly for tourism purposes, winter ice and snow hotel/bar constructions are attractive and practical service solutions for visitors.
In Rovaniemi, we also have four sites serving different types of commercial products testing. The majority of clients are car manufacturers or tire, snow scooter and all-terrain vehicle producers.
With the cleanest and freshest air quality, the area offers good and aromatic wild natural products such as berries, herbs, mushrooms, fish and reindeer meat. Arctic business is a growing and, with the goal of supporting this development, the Lapland Chamber of Commerce/Lapin kauppakamari arranges the annual Arctic Business Forum in Rovaniemi.
The other official trademark of Rovaniemi is Arctic Design Capital. Since 2009 the city and the university have held an annual Arctic Design Week. The week has grown to an important international event with participants from 32 countries. Arctic Design is a natural step for Rovaniemi due to the presence of the Faculty of Art and Design in the university. It is not just about industrial design but also service design and city planning. Arctic design is a new and exciting concept that can play an important international role in the future among Arctic cities.
Rovaniemi is a member of the World Winter Cities Association of Mayors (WWCAM) and through this network shares experiences between winter cities in order to create better living conditions for residents. In WWCAM, Rovaniemi is leading the Arctic Design Sub-committee. Winter cities have made reports lately how they have been taking into account the goals to reduce emissions and energy consumption. Also there are processes going on to enhance the circular economy and resilience of the cities.
Finland will chair the Arctic Council in less than two years’ time, starting from spring 2017. During that period there will be many important meetings in Rovaniemi and other municipalities in Lapland. Following the example of Alaska we have established the Lapland Arctic Council Host Committee to promote and inform about different kinds of competencies and services available in our region and city. Hopefully these activities around different meetings will also be a stimulus for practical co-operation between cities.
The Arctic Council has many important observer states both from Europe and Asia. The city of Rovaniemi and the Lapland Regional Council have good operative co-operation with sister organisations in some of these countries. These structures could be used partly in issues important for the Arctic Council. The role of the EU is important for Arctic co-operation and it should be strengthened. In Northern Europe we have had good practices for co-operation between regions and cities during the past 20 years.
Mostly this has been implemented within the structures of the EU’s Interreg and Tacis programmes. Numerous projects have corresponded nicely with priorities of the Arctic Council. Strong emphasis has been put on environmentally and socially sustainable projects. One good example is the international North Calotte Academy, which has been running for 25 years as a tradition to gather together students, researches and decision-makers to discuss common interests in the European North.
Arctic regions are vulnerable, vast and rich in natural resources. Climate change will have many impacts on nature, culture, business and logistics. It is in the utmost interest for regions and cities on how all of this will be realised in their territory. In Lapland, for decades we have planned multiple, sustainable uses of land between different interests of business. In our case, the challenge has been to fit together interests of nature preservation, Saami culture, tourism, forestry, reindeer husbandry, agriculture, mining and logistics. In this planning, we have lots of competence to share with other regions.
The northern-most area of Lapland forms also the home area for Saami people and culture. The indigenous population of the area is 4,000. Indigenous issues are governed by the Finnish Saami Parliament/Sámediggi and the municipalities in question. We do have of course Saami people also outside of this area. For example, in Rovaniemi we have a population of about 500 Saami, and the city provides services in the Saami language.
I have described possibilities to enhance Arctic co-operation on regional and local levels from the point of view of the Lapland region and city of Rovaniemi. I know that other Arctic regions and cities have similar kinds of competencies that could be shared through Arctic co-operation.
Cities have developed great products, functional solutions and sustainable processes in relation to different business sectors, public and private services, energy production and consumption. All this know-how should be better shared among Arctic societies.
Why has this competence and know–how on Arctic issues of regions and cities not been used more seriously? There are no suitable structures in the Arctic Council where this need could be realised. Also national delegations or working groups have not included enough sub-national actors.
Somehow, we should change this situation.
It might also be useful to consider the establishment of a working group of Arctic cities to the structures of the Arctic Council. This would bind together national level common strategies with regional and local operative programmes and actions.
Let’s keep in touch!
The author has been the mayor of Rovaniemi, Finland since August 2012. He served as county governor of the Lapland Regional Council from 1995-2012.